Populists and Newcomers Fared Well in Latvia’s Elections, but Will They Govern?

Populists and Newcomers Fared Well in Latvia’s Elections, but Will They Govern?
Nils Ushakovs, leader of the pro-Russian Harmony party, with his wife and son, cast their ballots at a polling station during Latvia’s parliamentary elections, Riga, Latvia, Oct. 6, 2018 (Photo by Sergey Melkonov for Sputnik via AP Images).

The headlines coming out of Latvia’s Oct. 6 parliamentary elections suggested that, as elsewhere in the world, populism is on the rise in the small Baltic nation. The anti-establishment KPV LV party was one of the big winners, along with the pro-Russian Harmony party. But in Latvia’s fragmented political system, no party is guaranteed a spot in the ruling coalition. Agnia Grigas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the author of “The Politics of Energy and Memory between the Baltic States and Russia,” among other books, breaks down the election results in an email interview with WPR.

World Politics Review: What are the main factors that led to the strong showing by pro-Russian and populist parties in the elections, at the expense of more traditional political forces?

Agnia Grigas: The strong showing by the Harmony party, which received the largest share of votes and 23 out of a total of 100 parliamentary seats, came as no surprise. Harmony has traditionally represented Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority and had strong ties with Russian political parties, receiving funding from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party until last fall. Harmony’s performance this month was actually slightly worse than in previous elections in 2014 and 2011, when it won 24 and 31 seats in parliament, respectively. The party’s leader, Nils Usakovs, has been the mayor of Riga, the capital, since 2009 and was re-elected for his third mayoral term in 2017. Thus, Harmony’s showing in the most recent elections actually reflects its still strong but relatively declining position in comparison to pro-Western parties among Latvian voters.

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